I didn’t notice it before in “Sweet Movie” until my second viewing: The commune sequence in the second half of the film is cast entirely with, and most likely shot, in Friedrichshof, where performance artist Otto Muehl and his merry band of anarchist artists vomit and shit and piss the day away. Puzzlingly, this is regarded as art by some. I’m not sure I read the importance of these “acts” in relation to the art world.
I came across Muehl’s early vomit art on YouTube and the bad vibes I felt seeing the video carried over to “Sweet Movie”. It’s puzzling how something Muehl and Makavejev considered brave and political and shocking is mainstream enough to be in 1,000 theaters for weeks. That’s right, the films I’m talking about are the “Jackass” series. Created by Spike Jonze and his pals, who happen to thank Pasolini and Bunuel, among other artists, in the end credits. No doubt, you’ll find Muehl and Makavejev on that list.
The “Jackass” boys reference to performance artists and surrealists was most likely a tongue in cheek joke. I bet modern filmmakers and artists, of the likes of Jonze and co., can see the irony in taking something as “artistic” as vomit and penis grabs and making it popular knucklehead entertainment.
Let’s face it, in the critical world the harder you look the more you see. With the right perspective you can see the disillusionment and pain and isolation and confusion in America’s youth watching “Jackass Two” or “The Hills” or anything of the sort. We know better. We can see that it’s trash and we regard it as trash and we go to it for the sake of trash.
Pasolini goes and makes “Salo”. Our Serbian pal makes “Sweet Movie”. Otto “shits” and “pukes”. Is it art because they say so? I’m not so sure. I know kids my age who see these movies with the same fascination that they see “Jackass”. Frankly, that makes sense. I think we’ve grown past being shocked into believing this stuff is art.
I find myself rolling my eyes when I see “Sweet Movie” or “Salo”. Something I find as serious as talking about these films in absolute reverence. Spouting off about their artistic statement.
Saying they matter.
Maybe they do matter to me. After all I can’t stop thinking about them. I scoff and I groan and still I talk about these films.
If I have one artistic ethic I love, it’s the right to free expression. Yet I find myself asking, why does Otto’s vomit have to be considered art?
and on and on.
There are enough sites online dedicated to vomit art to shame those who let their food go out traditionally. No wonder Otto’s community went out of style. It’s because EVERYONE else in the world is doing it. What does this mean?
And how long until it becomes fashionable? When Otto Muehl and Makavejev made their films it was meant to rise against the modern art politics of the time. Now kids do it all over. Next it’ll be sold in boutiques in the fashionista boulevards of Manhattan. Celebrated in parties thrown by snobbish art appreciators.
I’m musing. Though can it?
Criterion releases these films in their collection. You can find them in any video store. We feature “Sweet Movie” on our site. The truth is it probably was already hip in high class social circles.
I felt like being grossly prophetic for a moment.
I’m in obvious need of clarification. Is a work of art still considered important and meaningful in light of the context alone?
Or is it pretentious, artistic perversity?
(After writing this essay/rant I discovered another essay along the same lines by Glenn Kenny. Sade in Cinema, #1: Three Ways of Looking At Pasolini’s ‘Salo’. Check it out.)
yr the 1st cat on Auteurs & the first (of many, many) folks over 15 years to comment to me on Muehl, Pasolini, & Makavejev, & manage to offend me with yr comments on all 3, so, a (semi-) apology for the following:
i wrote a lengthy Sweet Movie essay years ago (Video Eyeball, Vol. 2 No 2, 1998) which Makavejev himself amazingly loved. i also wrote a lengthy piece on the Aktionists (EYE Magazine Fall 1998), which was well-reviewed by the NYT when there was a Aktionist exhibit in
NYC, and a i penned a piece on Pasolini’s more extreme work (Video Eyeball, Vol. 2, No.3, 1998).
i find yr comments ill-thought out. and yr information and context you provide exceptionally poorly-researched. you’re spewing forth purely visceral reactions, why not just leave it at that instead of deriding these filmmakers by questioning “whether it’s art”?
Sweet Movie was never “hip” til Criterion released it last year & it was reviewed all over the web. have you watched Makavejev’s or Pasolini’s other films? if you believe in free expression, then it doesn’t matter whether you “call it art” or not. and if you truly believe in it, it shouldn’t concern or offend you that many (including myself) do.
if you really want answers to these questions beyond “this is gross, i don’t like it, why does it exist, i don’t have to call it art – but hey, i’m all for free expression!… except..” (all completely valid 7 totally subjective reactions), real sociological answers to yr questions about what & why these horrid things (to you; some to me as well – i still call it art though) are on film… you’d do well to read my thoughts on the matter.
seriously, as not all reviews from hard copy mags have been transcribed to my blogs yet (though my sweet Movie piece [which you’d doubtfully read’’…] is), i think you’d really do well to research the lives of Pasolini, Makavejev, & Muehl – the cultures & conditions they grew up in, the significance of their work in socio-economic, political, and psychological terms. the thread or timeline you try to assemble to sort through this “what next” argument i covered in my Aktionist essay & others have done so as well (more eloquently than i) is way off. trace the history of extreme art, performance art…. are you familiar with the dads movement/ Yves klien? do you realize Hermann Nitsch began actionism performance in the mid-50s? do you know why? do you know what Otto Muehl’s life in the 40s was like? do you know about a young Dusan Makavejev co-founding the trremendously influencial Yugoslavian ‘new film’ movement around 1957? did you know Otto Muehl & Kurt Kren began making these films in 1959, well before Makavejev & a few years before Pasolini? you implu Muehl & Makavejev were cinematic contemporaries. they weren’t. Muehl & Kren had all but finished making the films by the time they appeared in Sweet Movie in 1974. you know Pasolini was a Catholic Marxist homosexual tormented endlessly by the Pope for the same subtle anti-clericism Bunuel was famed for at the same time? only then did Pasolini go all out extreme – but still his films were impeccably crafted. read the crew list on salo & tell how many work on major Hollywood films today – no less than 4. and speaking of Bunuel, you do know he made anti-clerical fims starting in 1930 with L’Age D’Or right? and he slit a pig’s eye for Un Chien Andalou in the Roaring 20s?
Muehl 7 Kren’s films 9you do know Kurt Kren actually directed most of them, right) were NEVER in thousands of theatres. those You Tube boots are probably the most they’ve EVER been scene. Sweet Movie did NOT play 1000s of theatres. maybe worldwide for a few weeks in 1975. a flick like DARK KNIGHT never reached 4500 theatres in the US nowadays. what are you talking about??
i think you are most certainly in need of vast gobs of clarification. you’re arguing from a position of weekness, like a crazed Bible-thumper.
just say “i hated it” and drop the faux need to “see what yr missing”, because with yr approach the more you try, the more you’ll continue to miss it. you admitted you don’t have the stomach for it & i’m 100% understanding of that. but yr misinformed & disinforming (to other readers here) rant prove you don’t have the intellectual rigor or grasp on this topic.
to Kid Law – Sweet Movie is NOT a film about vomit, or distributing it as art. SM provokes very subjective reactions; best to watch it yrself &/ or at the very least bear in mind that is ONE scene (and it is gross). but man if that becomes a benchmark for avoiding a movie, we’re all gonna be missing a lot of great movies because of “that scene” . "damn! why did i waste my time with Oldboy & Irreversible? those “one scenes” ruined the film for me"
excuse my typos above. and i meant ‘dada movement’, not ’dad’s movement’.
henry zeo covert,
in all respect, I have no idea what in the hell you’re talking about.
you’re a published essayist with clearly thought out research papers, so be it. i’ve been established on this site as a person who speaks from the gut. your clarifications would be valid to me if you actually read what I wrote clearly.
don’t try to lecture me when you fill words in for me. nothing in these films are gut wrenchingly sick to me man. what I’m saying is that I get enough of these images from websites, two girls one cup, and jackass.
i’m sorry buddy, did i trample over the life and times of sweet makajarev and muehl? the oversimplification of their lives was a means to an end. the rant I made up there was about how those images mean “[crap]” to me. they are as artistically valid as the dog killer in europe that everyone was going ape shit for.
“the more you’ll continue to miss it. you admitted you don’t have the stomach for it & i’m 100% understanding of that. but yr misinformed & disinforming (to other readers here) rant prove you don’t have the intellectual rigor or grasp on this topic.”
are you serious? you condescending [individual]. i’ll give an informative, well thought out essay on an artist who matters like Bunuel, not prats like these. give me what you’ve got, you [individiual] give me all the information you know on the misery of their lives and see how it does nothing to improve their work.
i’m positive none of my readers are reading my rant and saying, my god he’s right, “sweet movie” is a puke bag of a movie. they take what they want, they are media savvy, this is a smart website. my rant is exactly what it is, a visceral statement. you said it yourself didn’t you? and come to think of it— so is yours. so we’re okay.
cut out the attacks on other people’s intelligence though [man]. no matter how much you feel you “grasp” the ideas behind the images in “sweet movie” or whatever, it’s all a lie, it’s fiction, in the end the only truth is the emotional impact the images have on the viewer.
“sweet movie” delivered a steaming pile of [crap] in front of my face and it’s a pile that doesn’t make me laugh as much as steve-o. or provoke as much thought. think of the conditions in which poor steve-o grew up in! think of what brought them to such acts! the horror Henry, the horror!
I thought Sweet Movie was hilarious. Politics aside.
Also, I didn’t find much of the food orgy to be all that off-putting. It seemed like the next logical step for the film at that point. I felt all the mindless puke was forgivable not only because I doubt it was planned but really because shortly thereafter the guy regresses back to infancy, beautifully urinating as everyone pats his belly. It was an intoxicating correlation to the documentary section of WR: Mysteries of the Organism, with all the primal screams, moans & shrieks letting out all that aggression. I think that’s what turns people off more than anything, seeing the brutality & sorrow in everyday people at those private therapy sessions (“Give it to me!”). It shows how frightening we humans all are with all our malady of pent-up aggression.
Sweet Movie, in this, sends a good message: ‘Scream it out’.
Additionally, I loved the sugar murder scene.
And come on, that shot of the girl in the red suitcase, on top of the car, as her fingers submarine-telescope their way out the zipper… let’s all admit that’s a fucking superb sequence shot from an adjacent car. Great idea; hilariously executed.
“Is there life on the Earth? Is there life after birth?”
Those lyrics are stupidly priceless because the answer is so obviously “Yes.”
if anyone has an mp3 of that theme song, please tell me & i’ll handout my email for it.
Sweet Movie? It is indeed.
HAHA! Nice. See, now that’s a review I like and it’s the kind that allows for a second viewing of SM.
I found it funny too and I also found it really boring, Nathan. I think in my review of the movie on the film’s page I mention a few scenes that I did like quite a bit.
“you’re spewing forth purely visceral reactions, why not just leave it at that instead of deriding these filmmakers by questioning “whether it’s art”?”
are we in the dark ages here, pointing fingers at history and berating the common man for not having the sensibility/education to understand high art? this smacks of old school critic syndrome, which belies the (semi)marxist criticism on which you have ground your bed of critical lully.
To understand why/how a work was created, and the conditions of the artist within that creation, is not to understand the work as an entirety, or its future impact as it exists and moves through history. Equally, no work that requires extensive theoretical exposition (in order to clarify its meaning) can be divorced from the academic ivory tower that envelops that approach, typically middle class and detached (alienated) from the common man, and his experience. Ergo, Visceral is the only (honest) reaction possible, unless you want life strangled in an ouroburos of academic platitudes, and the only opinions that count to be those of graduates from film criticism schools, who pat the poor ‘ignorant’ on the top of their heads and tell them they lack the “intellectual rigor or grasp on this topic”.
I very much doubt that, given the enormity of any film production, that any human being (with the possible exception of an ego-driven, privileged ‘aesthete’ with an almost maniacal delusion of their own intelligence/grandeur) would go to the bother of constructing such intense imagery without a visceral reaction being part (or totality) of their intention. In fact, I suspect that they would be driving at a point that cannot be explained in language at all. The ultimate success or failure of such a work depends on how it is received over time, across generations and changes in cultures, symbols and societies. If Sweet Movie has failed to impact or resonate with MAO, is it not the failure of the work, and not MAO’s aesthetic antenna, that is at root? (or at least, turn your gun barrels on the society of NOW that wraps us in a thick swathe of gratuitous violence and degradation for the sheer purpose of ‘entertainment’ and renders us incapable of emotional reaction and nervously insensible). Dušan Makavejev’s film doesn’t resonate with me either. Which is not to say I cannot relate to his struggle. It is to say that I think he failed to make a film that would endure in the hearts and minds of future renegades against systems of oppression. If I can accuse him of anything (and I don’t really), it might be short sightedness, not poor artistic intent.
Anybody familiar with the music of Hijo-Kaidan / ‘Emergency Staircase’ (Japan, 1980s – present day) ?
—guitar, drums, one guy on projectile vomiting (direct to the audience, manifested in each performance by his eating of raw fish guts from a filthy bucket), one guy on repeated verbal abuse and pissing (also on audience), sometimes also throwing scrap metal around and slashing open his legs. Ask them what they think of Sweet Movie, or any other film that depicts an intense, primal, alienated ritual of human excess. Maybe take an umbrella with you.
“Anybody familiar with the music of Hijo-Kaidan / ‘Emergency Staircase’ (Japan, 1980s – present day) ?”
Or check out GG Allin. There’s a documentary called “Hated”. Certainly as primal as it gets.
yeah! GG Allin. ‘Hated’ is great.
which is a weird sentence to type.
Sweet Movie certainly was ‘hip’, whatever that means, long before the Criterion release. Anyone who hung out at art movie houses or halfway decent video stores or with friends who had a modicum of knowledge about ‘interesting’ or ‘far-out’ movies would have known about Sweet Movie long ago.
I have to disagree with you. Makavejev didn’t “co-found” the Yugoslav new film movement in 1957. There was no official program or movement to be co-founded in the first place. Yugoslav Novi Film was simply the entrace of a new generation of directors into the Yugoslav film industry, with new ideas and new styles and new reactions against the classical filmmakers and films. Similar to the entrace of the French New Wave onto their scene.
Also, what are you citing as the significance of the year 1957? At that time, Makavejev was making amateur shorts in Belgrade Kino Club and Academic Kino Club. His first professional documentary short was “Prokleti praznik” (Damned Holiday), shot in 1958.
Furthermore, Yugloslav Novi Film was initiated in 1961, with the appearance of the first feature films by this new generation of directors. Those films were “Ples na kisu” (A Dance in the Rain) by Bostjan Hladnik and “Dvoje” (The Couple) by Aleksandar Petrovic. Makavejev didn’t direct his first feature film until 1965, though he was still part of the first generation of Yugoslav Novi Film.
Over-analysis often takes away any joy. Yeah, the vomit-shit scene was somewhat dificult to watch, but Sweet Movie, overall, I believe to be quite brilliant. And…sort of sad how important being right is to some. Next time some of you open your keyboard mouths, make sure you apologize for blowing Odysseus’ ship off course….
Such is the lot of avant-gardes. What begins as utter shock to social sensibilities is rapidly marketized, banalized, and becomes par for the course. I’ve had shit flung at me in a gallery space, and as time passed the experience proved to be not that impressive.
Self-damaging is done by untold millions of people in multitudes of ways; from cutters to drug abusers to people who are merely sullen. Cleverer people with exhibitionist streaks do this and get it to be called art, which is fine. But it is all reducible to basically the same message: our consciousness, “the self,” is built on unstable, self-contradictory, excessive, animalistic foundations, and in many people the edifice of self is cracked enough that they must endeavor constantly to rip it open, to prove to others that it is false. What a scandal that we can create civilizations and things of beauty, and yet we wake up with bad breath and have to take shits, and sometimes we get so sick that we shit out of our mouths.
Worthwhile as a reminder, I suppose. But not particularly interesting to me as art.
“I’ve had shit flung at me in a gallery space, and as time passed the experience proved to be not that impressive.”
Ah, where was that?
Chicago, a few years back. I forget the name of the guy’s concept art operation. Basically everyone was waiting around with the customary wines and cheeses, and then this fellow and his harem of girl assistants come out, shit on the floor, and start flinging it at the attendees. Go figure.
The eyeball in Un Chien was a grape. On the other hand, it was rumored that they used the eye of a corpse for a similar scene in Thriller: A Cruel Picture.
Also, very interesting post. I’ve never really had the opportunity to read/hear someone defend that kind of work. Thanks. But, in the future, I would highly recommend you don’t use netspeak (“yr” for your, for example) when debating, even if it is just an internet forum. Grammar is still a good thing.
My thoughts on the definition of art in regards to this sort of thing: A works status as art is wholly dependent on the intention of the artist. If a person makes something intending it to be art, it is art. The only question from there is whether the art is any good. It always irks me when people try to define something they don’t like right out of existence. If you have an issue with a particular work of art, than have it, but don’t try to say it isn’t art so that you can avoid dealing with it. I’m not trying to imply that the OP is doing this, just giving my definition of art and it’s corollary.
it’s odd in these cases how forgettable the artist’s name or work title is, but the experience (presumably because it overwrites the concept) is forever remembered. A friend was telling me about a gig he went to in London a few years back where, without warning, the lead singer took out a plank of wood and nailed his penis to it. Warm shower of smegma and blood for the audience. He couldn’t remember the name of the band either.
At risk of being called a Troll. I was not. I had honest reasons for saying what I did and there were a few things I threw in to see what I can get out of people. I got Henry Zeo Covert. Sigh, maybe I wanted my OP to be my own little “Sweet Movie”.
LOL at all these interesting experiences. As for Sweet Movie, all I can remember is the sugar scenes and Carole Laure’s head sticking out of a suitcase.
Not sure where you’re getting your information, but the eye in Un Chien was definitely an eye, either a cow’s or a goat’s. Certainly not a grape, which most assuredly would not ooze the way it so beautifully does. Agreed with your thoughts on art, though, it’s all about subjectivity.
This particular bit of Sweet Movie appeals to me because I find it interesting as a paraphilia, and like it or not there are people who do shit like this. I think it illuminates human sexuality and condition in extremes in much the same way as Marquis de Sade, whose work I also enjoy for similar reasons (I think they both belong to black humor). I don’t really feel the same way about some of the performance art described above, like the shit-flinging or the penis-nailing. I think in these cases, it’s more about people actively thinking “how can I shock and revolt people?” more than “how can I express myself?” But if people think it’s art, I guess it is, I just think it’s too pretentious to care about it.
“sweet movie” is really interesting, but not among makavejev’s best work. but i can say that my favorite sequence in a makavejev film is in this one. the katyn forest massacre. the use of editing and music in this sequence is amazing. it really packed an emotional punch for me. serbian cutting at its finest.
I’m not sure if art is justifiably art in itself. Who has the right to call art art? How dare they! But I can see from the main argument stemming this thread off that there was an unwelcome noticing of shite, and the human excretions. Lots of shit is not complimentary to a work of beauty because it’s the exact opposite, but it’s the only thing humans make well, so it could be seen as a representation of our nature to create.
But if anyone saw the interview that came with the movie, you’ll hear the way in which the director and his crew dealt with that scene because the people in the commune weren’t fucking around, and it bothered the crew. So, maybe we, as an audience are too high minded to dig into something as shallow and obvious as the ultimate attack on society which very well may be to show the most fearful, and most frequent movements taken by humans. Or maybe I’m talking out of my ass.
i tell you one thing. forget about all this formal debating. someone throws shit at me at a gallery exhibit, or anywhere in public, i’m beating the SHIT out of them (so they’ll have no more to throw)! show’s over. haha!
Of course something is not automatically art just because an artist says so. Other people have to see some significance in it before it will be acknowledged. However, because the critical framework today is more about concept than technique, and weaned on dialectical pessimism, there is a much more rapid assimilation rate.
To take an example from art history. Van Gogh never became successful or publicly acceptable in his lifetime. His brush stroke and other innovations were not understood and championed until well after he passed on. But in the early 20th century, Marcel Duchamp shocked people by placing a urinal in an art gallery, as well as a poster of the Mona Lisa with a mustache drawn on her upper lip, and within his lifetime he was eventually acclaimed and exhibited everywhere.
You have the right not to like anything you don’t like. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t artistic, or worthwhile.
i disagree. art isn’t determined by people seeing significance in a piece of work. the masses aren’t arbiters on what is and what isn’t art.
in other words, the artist working in a secluded studio who no one has ever heard of, nor seen any of his work, is still an artist, and what he is producing is still art.
Oxford write that are is " noun 1 the expression of creative skill through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture." The definitions then continue on to discuss music, drama and "4 (arts) subjects of study primarily concerned with human culture (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects). "
Oxford then says about skill: “noun 1 the ability to do something well; expertise or dexterity.”
As much as I enjoy discussions such as these it’s always impossible to get anywhere, especially with art, because everything is so subjective. Perhaps one could vomit better than another, thus doing it with expertise of dexterity. What gives me an edge sometimes in these matters is Oxfords definition of creativity, “adjective involving the use of the imagination or original ideas in order to create something.” Personally I think much of the vomit culture and such are definitely not using their imagination or original ideas but in the end it’s still subjective and only the artist knows for sure if they are indeed being truly creative or just passing off what used to be revolutionary in their own mediocre way.
I wont even get into the Cambridge definitions (“1 [U] the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings”). Once “feelings” get into the whole discussion is lost.
@Bobby, I never said “the masses.” But someone else has to deem it art before it is recognized as such outside the studio. That’s the plight of the artist from time immemorial: he or she creates alone, but without an audience the work languishes in obscurity, as if it had never been created. That’s a tough position to be in.
ok. it’s just hard for me to swallow the notion that someone else has to “deem” something art before it can be granted that status, whether inside or outside the studio. who is that someone else, and what powers do they have?
The power of saying, “Hey, this is art.” They’re the publishers, the editors, the gallery owners, the museum curators, the dreaded A & R men if they exist any more and the even more dreaded film studio executives.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, it still makes a sound, but that sound is unrecorded and unremembered. That seems pretty irrefutable to me, Bobby.
Or put it this way: can you name for me a great film or filmmaker you’ve never heard of before?